Unity Temple Reopens After Multi-Million Dollar Renovations

CHICAGO (CBS) – It is regarded as one of Architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s most historically significant and beautiful creations.

After years of multi-million dollar renovations, the Unity Temple in Oak Park is finally ready to reopen. CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole took a look inside.

Beyond the concrete walls of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple is an ethereal sanctuary space, if you can only find the front door.

“When you are out on the street you are looking around saying how do I get into this place,” said Gunny Harboe, President Harboe Architects.

Wright called it his “Path of Discovery.” Even inside, visitors twist their way through low-hung ceilings and tight stairwells that unexpectedly open up onto an ample chapel, surrounding the visitor in light and natural colors.

“All of a sudden you come out into the opening, into the glade in the woods really, and you are like whoa and it almost hits you in the stomach. It’s very, very powerful,” Harboe said.

Just about every inch of the 1908 structure has been restored in a $25-million renovation. Hundreds of windows were taken apart and sent to California for restoration, the glass, wood and electrical of each lighting fixture made new. Hard to believe now but much of the interior was wasting away from water damage.

“There are 22 roofs on the building and many of them leaked,” Harboe said.

Like detectives, architects peeled away layers of paint and probed samples of wood, examining each under a microscope to get the restoration materials and colors just right in a process of forensic investigation.

“Forensic investigation, it’s not CSI but it’s similar,” Harboe said.

The congregation displaced for almost two years welcomes their return.

“It’s a very intimate experience to worship here because you can see so many people it’s almost in the round,” said Rev. Alan Taylor, Unity Temple.

“This is one of Wright’s greatest works in his whole career which makes it one of the greatest works of the 20th century,” Harboe said.

There are many upgrades to the temple you will not see. It used to be so hot in the summer months the congregation could not use it, now an air-conditioning system is hidden inside its concrete columns. You can check it out for yourself; the temple is planning an open house celebration on June 17.

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